Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another one rides the bus

In its monthly newsletter inserted in utility bills, the city of Bend noted that BAT is a hit.

BAT is Bend Area Transit, a limited fixed-bus route system that the city and its voters rejected for years until it started up, barely, in September 2006. Until then, Bend was the largest city in at least the western half of the country without a transit system. Smaller cities such as Corvallis and Klamath Falls in Oregon started bus systems years ago.

Anyway, the city's newsletter says that before BAT it spent $1.1 million in 2005 to provide federally-subsidized Dial-A-Ride totaling 99,759 boardings of mostly senior citizens.

In 2010, the city spends the same amount for BAT and Dial-A-Ride but with more than 372,000 boardings that include seniors, students and everyone else in town.

Now, the naysayers will point out, "A-ha. The bus system doesn't make any money. In fact, no transit system in America shows a profit."

Breaking even on a transit system. while serving almost 4 times as many people, is far superior to what all roads in Oregon make, which is nothing. In fact, Oregon streets, boulevards and highways are a significant drain on city, county and state budgets.

What BAT does is provide modest transportation for people who have no other means of getting around town. It's socialist, I know. But, it does transport people to their jobs, which are capitalist jobs.

Bend didn't want to add a transit system, but some gutsy city councilors voted to okay it. City staff tried to undermine that decision by buying worthless used buses for $200,000 that had to be scrapped in about a year. The city, then, had to spend a far greater sum for new buses. Not once did any city official contact the statewide transit organization for advice or guidance.

In this regard Bend is the opposite of what Oregon is known for: progressiveness. Many of Bend's streets do not have sidewalks, let alone decent bike lanes. Bend was designed for the automobile, the Model-T.

On a recent trip to Portland, it was easy to get around downtown on its MAX and trolley systems. We bumped into a couple that had moved to downtown Portland a year ago. Where did they move from? Southeast Portland. And they love living the car-free life.

Of course, Portland is about 10 times the size of Bend, but still, it's a forward-thinking place whereas Bend doesn't spend much time thinking. Bend has the same mentality toward growth that could be found in California in the 1960s: unrestrained and with minimal oversight.

Bend is trying to work with Redmond to create a regional transit system, but that'll be years, if not decades, before something workable emerges.

In the meantime, we have BAT and that's a start.

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